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Five Key Ingredients of Lasting Brands How to protect your reputation while marketing through social media.

By Gail Goodman Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Your brand is what differentiates your business from the competition. Your brand is what you do and how you do it -- and how you communicate that to the world. To use a cooking metaphor, too many cooks adding random ingredients to your brand can make for one crazy dish.

Make sure the brand you've built your reputation on stays strong as you expand your marketing outreach into new channels. Follow this five-step recipe for consistent branding across all media.

  1. Use the same images, logos and writing style across all communication channels. Brand recognition is often thought of as the way you portray your business or organization visually, but it's more than that. Your brand is the way you look and sound to others, so make sure you're using similar elements across your communication channels.

    That means consistent graphic design. Make sure your business logo and company colors, typefaces and imagery appear in your e-mail campaigns, on social media sites and across the internet as well as in print materials. Use your logo or your photo as an avatar instead of the Twitter bird or some other generic icon. That way readers will know whoever is posting is really you.

    Define your business voice and message. Is it upbeat and witty? Serious and trustworthy? Reassuring and dependable? Speak to the issues and challenges of your audience using language and a tone that will resonate with them.

    Define your brand message and persona. What does your brand represent to customers? What topics and keywords does your business focus on? What do you want prospects to think about when they come in contact with you, your products and services? Make sure you focus your social media and e-mail marketing content to match your desired brand message and persona. Many marketers make the mistake of trying to sound "hip" on Twitter or Facebook; your business voice and message don't change just because the medium changes.
  2. Actively manage the people who represent your brand. Make sure employees, marketing and agency staff, and anyone else who communicates with customers conveys your brand message and represents your values. This is particularly important with social media, especially if you have other staff members posting on your company's behalf.

    It's tempting to have everyone on your team start blogging and posting on social media websites without goals and guidelines, but that could be harmful to your business. Take the time to discuss your goals, key topics and business voice with anyone who is going to represent you. And remember: You don't have to use every social media marketing tool out there. Research where your customers and prospects are spending time; that's where you want to establish a presence.
  3. Separate the personal from the professional. You set up a personal account on Facebook. At first it's all about friends, family and community. Then business colleagues find you and friend you. Over time, the personal account gets co-opted by the business, and your vacation pictures just don't seem like appropriate content anymore. That's where things can get messy. Fans and followers looking to you for business insights don't really want to see pictures of your child's preschool graduation (as adorable as they might be) or your views on politics, news or sports.

    My advice? Set up separate accounts. You need to establish a distinct presence for your business and direct your customers and colleagues there. Respect your customers' limited bandwidth, and don't risk putting them off with your personal stuff. You can (and should) show some personality on your company presence. In fact, that's part of your brand. But do it by voicing your passion for your work and sharing your industry expertise.
  4. Blend the "ingredients" until smooth. Combine social media with e-mail marketing and other channels to tell your story. Figure out how much and how often you will post on social media websites and on what topics. Make sure postings are consistent with your brand image, message and values. Ask for customer success stories so you can share them in your marketing communications. No one tells your brand story better than a happy customer.
  5. Conduct a taste test. Does your business live up to your brand promise? Monitor social media websites and blogs, as well as customer review websites (such as Yelp), for positive and negative comments about your business. Search for your business name plus the word "reviews" to see what's being said about you, your industry and your competitors. Set up monitoring tools to make sure you don't miss relevant content and commentary. That gives you real-time intelligence on your brand's successes and shortcomings so you can fine-tune your recipe.

Reinforcing your brand in all your communications helps customers understand the benefits of what you offer and what's better about your business. Make sure all the cooks in your kitchen represent your brand consistently across all media so your business can grow. Your satisfied customers will come back for seconds.

Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.

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